Rangeomorphs, a bizarre strawberry-shaped prehistoric animal, have been shown to exhibit some of the same reproductive strategies that many plants and animals exhibit today.
A soft-bodied animal that looked like a strawberry lived throughout the Earth’s oceans about 565 million years ago. According to Live Science, fossil evidence has shown rangeomorphs are the earliest known complex organisms to procreate.
Most researchers consider the rangeomorphs to be some of the planet’s first complex organisms. A new study looking at their fossils has revealed that the animals flourished during the late Ediacaran period, between 580 million and 541 million years ago. They could grow up to a length of 6.5 feet, but most of the specimens averaged about 4 inches in length. They lacked mouths, organs, and a means to move around, but the prehistoric creatures did, however, have an interesting strategy for reproduction.
Rangeomoprhs set out an “advance party,” or a first generation of colonizers to set up shop in an area before proliferating and filling out a space with subsequent generations.
While rangeomorphs don’t look like many other organisms in the fossil record, they do exhibit some of the building blocks of modern reproductive strategies found in plants and animals that are still around today.
Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge’s department of earth sciences, and her colleagues studied fossils of a rangeomorph called Fractofusus, which was endemic to Newfoundland, Canada. Larger Fractofusus specimens, considered “grandparents,” were randomly distributed across the sample area, while genetically similar “parent” and “child” generations were clustered around the grandparents.
These patterns are quite similar to the way modern plants proliferate. After an initial settlement event, such as a seed pod falling and opening on the ground, subsequent generations fill out the space and colonize the surrounding environment.
Rangeomorphs vanished from the fossil record at the beginning of the Cambrian period, nearly 540 million years ago, but their strategy for reproduction can still be observed in plants and animals into the present day.